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Is capitalism driving itself out of business?

By Scott Olster | April 23, 2014

FORTUNE -- Capitalism seems to be getting it from all sides these days.

French economist Thomas Piketty made the rounds in New York and Washington, D.C. last week to promote his new, widely praised tome, Capital in the Twenty‑First Century, an exhaustive analysis that argues that inequality and the concentration of wealth among the few are the norm, rather than the exception, within capitalist societies.

In a less sobering -- at times, overoptimistic -- side of a similar coin, political consultant and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin's recently published The Zero Marginal Cost Society highlights a capitalism that seems to be running itself out of business.

Rifkin argues that the private market's drive for efficiency and productivity has brought us ever closer to a world in which the marginal cost to produce just about everything will inch closer and closer to zero.
Picture factories run entirely by robots, powered by renewable energy sources like wind and the sun, creating products delivered by driverless vehicles, also run on renewable energy. Maybe these products won't even need to make any kind of journey at all. Perhaps they can simply be produced at your home or a few blocks away with the help of a 3-D printer.

Speaking of your home, in Rifkin's new world, your next one may very well be built by locally generated, 3-D-printed materials, in record time, removing the considerable expense of transporting construction goods. Rifkin cites an MIT lab that is working to develop a house frame in a single day "with virtually no human labor." An equivalent frame, Rifkin says, "would take an entire construction crew a month to put up."


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French economist? Sacre bleu!

People tend to fear increasing technological efficiency...

They seem to be afraid they'll work themselves out of a job. What they neglect to include in their assessments is the fact that there will always be more problems to solve.

As a former dirt man, I enjoy what Gary Johnson said (paraphrasing) - "If it's all about the jobs, let's get rid of the heavy equipment and dig all the ditches with spoons."

There's a good chapter on that subject in Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.